Two seconds into Saturday’s game, as fans were still finding their seats at the Liacouras Center, Ernest Aflakpui committed his first foul.
The junior center has struggled with foul trouble early this season. Aflakpui committed four fouls in three of his first seven games, including Temple’s win against the University of South Carolina on Nov. 30 at Madison Square Garden. He only played eight minutes while sophomore backup Damion Moore recorded his first career double-double with a career-high 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Aflakpui scored 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and grabbed six rebounds in Temple’s (6-2, 1-1 Big 5) 81-78 win against St. Joseph’s (4-5, 0-2 Big 5) on Saturday.
“Our whole thing was, those three are going to get theirs, and you can’t have these other guys getting baskets,” St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said. “And to their credit, they did.”
By “those three,” Martelli means senior forward Obi Enechionyia, sophomore guard Quinton Rose and junior guard Shizz Alston Jr. The three entered Saturday’s game averaging 48.4 points per game.
Alston scored 20 points to record his third game of 20 or more points. Rose had his second career double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
The Hawks held Enechionyia in check. He finished with four points on 1-of-8 shooting from the field and grabbed six rebounds. Foul trouble limited Enechionyia to a season-low 23 minutes. His four points are also a season-low and the fewest he has scored in a game since he had two points in 19 minutes in a loss to UConn on Feb. 19.
Enechionyia committed the third of his four fouls with 19 minutes, 43 seconds left in the second half. Coach Fran Dunphy substituted freshman forward De’Vondre Perry into the game for Enechionyia, who didn’t return until the 14:09 mark. He stayed in the game for 31 seconds until Aflakpui came into the game for him with 13:38 left.
With Enechionyia in foul trouble, Dunphy utilized an offense-defense substitution strategy. Enechionyia played from the 12:30-mark to the 11:36-mark when Perry re-entered the game. Aflakpui subbed in for Enechionyia with 5:15 left.
Aflakpui recorded his fifth career double-digit scoring performance and fell two points short of his career-high 14 points on Feb. 5 against South Florida.
“It was really important because we can’t have all of our big guys out,” Aflakpui said. “So if Obi is having foul trouble and stuff like that, it’s very important for me to stay in the game and help my team get a win.”
Like in Wednesday’s win against the University of Wisconsin, Temple finished the game with a small lineup with Enechionyia at center. He played the final 3:17, subbing in for Aflakpui.
Aflakpui scored nine of his points in the second half. Aflakpui scored five points in a row to put them up by 10 with seven minutes left.
“If we could count on a dozen points from Ern every game, that would be absolutely spectacular,” Dunphy said. “That’s obviously not his forte, but he did a terrific job. I thought he was poised at the rim, didn’t rush himself.”
“I think it was very critical for me to crash the glass because we knew they didn’t have any post presence and they were trying to play all five out,” Aflakpui said. “So that was one main thing for us to crash the glass. So I think I did that, then I got a couple of and-ones to help our team.”